I was a federal prosecutor for 24 years before I became Philadelphia’s inspector general. I spent my career prosecuting people in city departments for illegally accepting money.
In 2003, in one of my cases, a federal jury convicted the entire plumbing-inspection department, except for one inspector, at the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspections for extorting money from plumbers. The evidence in that case showed that when many of those inspectors were hired, their supervisors told them they could double their salaries by accepting “tips.” Though the majority of L&I employees have always been honest, it was clear that money on the side was a way of life for some.
Something is changing in Philadelphia. This summer, five L&I inspectors reported to my office that contractors had tried to bribe them. Instead of keeping the money, as was all too common in the past, they reported the bribe attempts to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
We’ve seen an enormous culture change. Philadelphia is a more ethical, transparent, and accountable city than it ever has been — a major milestone for a government once considered hopelessly corrupt. The city’s many talented and motivated civil servants now go about their business with a sense of pride and purpose.
It starts from the top. Mayor Kenney and L&I Commissioner Dave Perri continually send the unequivocal message that city employees are not for sale — that they can come forward with serious allegations of fraud and misconduct without fear of retaliation and that integrity is a bedrock principle of L&I and city government as a whole.
Along with Ellen Kaplan, the city’s chief integrity officer, I speak to every new L&I inspector about ethics and integrity. I talk about the history of L&I and the numerous federal criminal convictions at all levels of the department. Deputy Commissioner Ralph DiPietro, who also serves as the OIG’s integrity officer, attends every one of those trainings, and together we emphasize that this is a new L&I and that corruption will not be tolerated. (You can report wrongdoing at www.phila.gov/ig/.)
Someone will always be doing something wrong — it’s human nature. But I’ll say it again: This summer, five L&I inspectors reported bribery attempts. And now, more often than not, the OIG works with the District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to prosecute the bribers, not city officials taking bribes.
It has taken an institutional commitment to restore the public’s trust in government. But that trust is fragile. We have to nurture it and remain vigilant.
Philadelphia is one of the only large cities in the country that does not have a permanent Office of the Inspector General. Only an amendment to our Home Rule Charter can guarantee a permanent OIG, and only the citizens of Philadelphia can make that happen.
Amy Kurland has served as inspector general of Philadelphia since 2008. firstname.lastname@example.org